Mothers and Others’ Day: 5 to Watch in May

Mothers and Others' Day: 5 to Watch in May-Mamie Van Doren in Guns, Girls and Gangsters

Yes, of course, I wish along with you that women filmmakers, and movies centered on female protagonists, were so common that the notion of singling them out for attention was beyond ludicrous. That day is still a long way off in mainstream commercial films, and that’s all that counts for a certain chunk of our society. Let’s consider the glass half-full this month, and contemplate the array of mothers, lovers, daughters, sisters and gal-pals having their say and getting their way (at least some of the time) in other genres, and in Old Hollywood.

In film noir, women are rarely the motor that propels the movie, but they’re almost always the engine that revs the men who drive the story. An exception of sorts is the newlywed played by Kim Hunter in the no-budget 1944 thriller When Strangers Marry (Thursday, May 17), unearthed by programmer extraordinaire Elliot Lavine for his latest compilation of mid-century pulp, I Wake Up Dreaming 2012: The French have a name for it!. Hunter, with ex-boyfriend Robert Mitchum lending amoral support, starts to wonder if new hubby Dean Jagger is a lunatic killer.


When Strangers Marry

Most of the series, which runs May 11-24 at the Roxie in San Francisco, features variations of the typical female noir role — the femme fatale; one highlight among many is Mamie Van Doren lighting Lee Van Cleef’s cigar, so to speak, in the 1959 heist yarn, Guns, Girls and Gangsters (Thursday, May 24). For more information visit roxie.com.

The GAZE Women Film Series at Artists’ Television Access (ATA) presents a program of short films conceived and directed by women exploring the theme of home. Working variously in experimental, documentary and narrative genres, Anjali Sundaram, Kyja Kristjansson-Nelson, Raquel Schefer, Irina Leimbacher, Merve Kayan, Vera Brunner-Sung and Mandy Williams contemplate the complexities of family, strangers and familiar and unfamiliar environments. GAZE screens Thursday, May 17, 2012 at ATA in San Francisco. For more information visit atasite.org.


Le Rayon Vert (Summer)

Few filmmakers of either sex have ever portrayed female characters with more curiosity, fascination, ambiguity and affection than Eric Rohmer. Two of the late, great French director’s best films, the charming Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle (1987) and the masterwork Le Rayon Vert (Summer) (1986) play on a double bill for a week beginning Friday, May 18, 2012 at the SF Film Society Cinema in San Francisco. For more information visit sffs.org.


Filmmaker, Chick Strand

The San Francisco Cinematheque’s third annual Crossroads festival, a weekend blowout of new and classic avant-garde films, unspools May 18-20, 2012 at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco. Women have long excelled at personal filmmaking, needless to say, and are represented throughout the program. The hottest tickets are likely to be Woman With Flowers: Celebrating Chick Strand (Saturday, May 19 at 2pm), featuring the recently completed final film by the much-loved artist who died in 2009, and California Dreaming: Films by Laida Lertxundi (Sunday, May 2 at 5:30pm), with the Basque-born, L.A.-based artist on hand to introduce her work, which recently screened in the Whitney Biennial. For more information visit sfcinematheque.org.


Whores’ Glory

Whores’ Glory, the gifted Austrian filmmaker Michael Glawogger’s latest exploration of work, society and power, opens May 25, 2012. The most unsettling aspect of the film, which was shot in Thailand (Bangkok), Bangladesh (Faridpur) and Mexico (Reynosa), is that it doesn’t portray its subjects as victims or freaks. It’s a sympathetic study, but some readers might point out that it nonetheless portrays women in one of the handful of roles they’re mostly given in movies. Well, keep your knickers on: Tanya Wexler’s Hysteria, a Victorian-era romantic comedy (em)powered by the invention of the vibrator, opens the same day at the Embarcadero and the Shattuck. Maggie Gyllenhall and Felicity Jones, two of the most likable female presences in movies today, deliver ample doses of spirit and independence.

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Michael Fox

Michael Fox has written about film for a variety of publications since 1987. He is the curator and host of the long-running Friday night CinemaLit film series at the Mechanics' Institute,  an instructor in the OLLI programs at U.C. Berkeley and S.F. State, and a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.

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